Tower of Power What Is Hip? The Tower of Power Anthology (Rhino/Warner)
Reviewed by David Lynch, Fri., Dec. 10, 1999
Tower of Power
What Is Hip? The Tower of Power Anthology (Rhino/Warner)In calling their anthology What Is Hip?, Tower Of Power not only reference one of their signature tunes, they also beg the question: Is Tower of Power still hip? Rising out of the ashes of a suit-wearing cover band called the Motowns, T.O.P. was born in the Oakland of the late Sixties, part of the era-defining Bay Area music scene. Like nearly everyone else at the time, the horn-fed combo let their hair down, embracing a longer, looser, freer, funkified sound, but instead of tripping out like their psychedelic brethren across the bay in San Francisco, T.O.P. blended and reworked soul-R&B-jazz-funk-Stax vinyl so successfully that it's possible now to talk about a "Tower of Power sound." Furthermore, in creating their own voice, the Bay Area institution paved the way for younger bands like Liquid Soul and Groove Collective. So it's high time to document their musical history: 30 years, 15 albums, and more than 50 members. Quickly rising to the top with Seventies anthems such as "You're Still a Young Man," "Oakland Stroke," "What Is Hip?," and "Squib Cakes" (all included here), record companies fought over T.O.P., and many well-known acts either sought them out or hired clones. Though they didn't crash and burn like so many other acts who've been quickly soaked in the limelight, T.O.P. slowly lost themselves in disco and the trappings of fame. Rotating band membership didn't help. In the Eighties, T.O.P. wallowed (who didn't?), but are now back with What Is Hip?, their third release in as many years. A 2-CD, 35-cut chronological retrospective, What Is Hip? houses both organic funk tracks and composed ballads. Thankfully, there are many in the first category: the tightly executed meltdown "Soul Vaccination," the hiptastic "Souled Out," the aptly named "You've Got to Funkifize," and the deep drop rhythm of "So I Got to Groove." Naturally, some of the ballads, "Below Us, All the City Lights," and "Time Will Tell," for example, don't transcend their zeitgeist nearly as well. Still, there's plenty of qualified material, ballads and smokers alike, to justify the anthology's two discs. After all is said and done, What Is Hip? isn't only a successful anthology of T.O.P.'s horn-driven history, it's a musical anthology of the past three decades.